eHealth PIP brings confusion

Medicare Australia has updated the criteria for general practices seeking to maintain access to the e-health (formally IT/IM) component of the Practice Incentives Program (PIP).

The scheme is intended to advance the use of computers and related technology in general practice by offering substantial payments to practices that comply with a series of criteria formulated by the Department of Health and Ageing.

Under the new PIP regime, general practices must adhere to three criteria to qualify for e-health payments equal to $6.50 per Standardised Whole Patient Equivalent (SWPE), capped at $12,500 per quarter.

Firstly, the practice must have in place at least one secure messaging software solution developed by an "eligible supplier". Practices have until the the 31 July to comply with this requirement, a task that should be easy for most general practices "blessed" with a multitude of secure messaging solutions.

The second criteria stipulates that the practice has (or has applied for) a "location" certificate, and that each GP working in the practice has (or has applied for) a Medicare PKI "individual" certificate. While most general practices already have a location certificate in place for the purposes of Medicare Online claiming, uptake of individual certificates by GPs has been underwhelming in comparison, something this criteria is aimed at rectifying.

To maintain compliance with the second requirement, practices need to ensure that GPs joining their organisation apply for an individual certificate within 14 days of commencing work, assuming they don't already possess one or are acting in a short term locum capacity.

Practices concerned about the compatibility of their clinical and secure messaging software with Medicare-issued PKI technology can rest easy at this point in time - there is no current requirement that they actually start using their individual PKI certificates for any purpose. According to the Medicare Australia guidelines: "Practices will be considered to have met this requirement once they have applied to Medicare Australia for PKI certificates."

The final e-health PIP criteria requires that all GPs have access to at least six "key electronic clinical resources" as defined by the e-health PIP guidelines.

Despite the requirements of the new e-health PIP scheme being modest, lacklustre engagement by Government with key stake holder groups has caused a great deal of angst for both practices and the organisations that support them. Accreditation agencies, divisions, peak bodies, colleges, and software vendors have all reported being inundated with queries from practices concerned that they may lose their PIP payments due to non compliance.

The majority of the concerns reported have arisen because practices are being asked to indicate whether they are using a secure messaging solution from an "eligible supplier", despite the fact that presently there are no vendors listed on the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) website established to promote such solutions to practices.

NEHTA are responsible for enlisting secure messaging software developers into a yet to be defined program designed to promote the use of functional behaviour agreed to by NEHTA and industry participants. As software vendors currently need only sign a non-binding Statement of Commitment to the NEHTA led initiative, it is expected that all secure messaging software vendors will achieve this status in the very near term. Indeed, Pulse+IT has been provided with assurances from ArgusConnect, Global Health, HCN, Healthlink and Medical-Objects that their companies have already signed the document.

These and other vendors will be formally acknowledged on 14 April, when the first tranche of compliant secure messaging vendors will be published on the NEHTA PIP website, in advance of the 31 July deadline for practices to comply with the first PIP criteria. Practices must comply with the other criteria by 30 April.

Meanwhile, NEHTA has outlined an industry engagement process that will attempt to deliver clarity to software vendors with regard to the organisation's intentions for secure messaging in Australia. This engagement process commences in earnest this Wednesday with a full day industry session to be held at the Sydney Airport Stamford Plaza from 9:30am.

An in-depth analysis of the new e-health PIP requirements, including a self-help guide for practices, will be published in the forthcoming edition of Pulse+IT, and in advance via a Pulse+IT eNewsletter.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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